The 2018 season saw the rise of NineNine Jiu Jitsu's Igor Tanabe in the purple belt divisions. Only just able to compete in the adult divisions, he was immediately extremely successful, where at his adult debut at the 2018 IBJJF Europeans he took a bronze medal in his division and a silver in the absolutes. He would follow this on with another bronze medal at the 2018 Pan Ams. All this would lead to him taking Gold at the 2018 World Championships in an undeniable performance, not only in the Gi but he would take Gold in the IBJJF NoGi World Championships. The Maeda Brand sponsored athlete was then promoted to brown belt by Turtle Master legend, Eduardo Telles, we caught up with Igor as he prepared for the 2019 IBJJF World Championships.
FME - Hi Fat Ninja, thanks for your time ! So tell people more about yourself, you have a very unique upbringing.
Igor - I was born in Brazil, and when I was 3 years old I moved to Japan. My parents had work in Japan, I started to train when I was 7 years old and since then I’ve always wanted to be a world champion. I can say now I’m living a dream now, I can train everyday, I’m living in the USA chasing my Jiu Jitsu dreams. Man when I compare myself to my friends I feel like I’m closer to my dreams, when they were younger I was training while they were playing. That was natural for me, I’ve never been forced to train, but I said to myself I have to train to become a world champion. From 13 I started to take it a lot more serious, that was when my dad opened his own academy. I come from a small town in the middle of Japan called Mie, and I train at a 99 affiliation in Japan. My professor is my fiancé’s dad Walter Franco, but also my dad is my professor too as for a while I was training only with him and him and my mum were the first to believe in me and my father truly is my role model !
FME - so you’ve experienced your first year as an adult competitor, how was the transition from juvenile to adult and what surprised you the most if anything did.
Igor - the main difference between adult and juvenile for me was the time difference. When I was competing at juvenile it was only 5 minute matches. However when I was eligible for adult I was promoted to purple belt, and the matches at purple belt are 7 minutes. That was why at the beginning I failed a bit, and also the quantity of fights, at juvenile the most fights in a day I would have was 6 fights for weight and absolute, while at worlds I fought like 6 to win Gold.
FME - You also competed on the prestigious Quintet earlier this year, how was that experience for you ?
Igor - man that was an amazing experience. I used to watch Pride Fighting Championships when I was a kid, and having Lenne Hardt the ring announcer for Pride call my name was a dream come true. It was my first time on a big professional show, and I was just disappointed I wasn’t able to show my full Jiu Jitsu as I was disqualified but it was still an amazing experience and I hope they call me to fight again.
FME - Your route to a world title was a unique one, this was your first year as an adult competitor, you were always in the mix for a podium finish and showed flashes of brilliance at the big competitions. However at Worlds it seemed you turned a corner and was a different competitor, you dominated, Most of your matches and was a totally different athlete to the one we saw at the Pans and Euros. What do you attribute to this change ?
Igor - one thing that I really changed was that I moved to NineNine Jiu Jitsu under the Turtle master Eduardo Telles, which was another level of intensity. I always had good training in Japan but most of my training partners worked full time, no one was a competitor like me so I could only train hard once a day and that was 3 times a week. Here in the US I could train hard twice a day and I was totally focused on Jiu Jitsu, I had more training partners and a lot of them are on the same path as me training for competitions like Sergio Rios.
FME - not only did you take Gold at the IBJJF World Championships in the Gi but you also took Gold in the world NoGi, how was your World NoGi run and will we see you compete in more NoGi competitions ?
Igor - my nogi worlds was crazy because I came back to America in October and I hadn’t trained NoGi at all, and everyone was beating me up in NoGi. I was training a lot at 99 Jiu Jitsu, and my friends at Alliance San Diego also helped me out for this tournament. It all worked out as I was able to show good Jiu Jitsu and win, but at the beginning I was afraid as in Gi Jiu Jitsu I like to use the lapel a lot, but training NoGi I was like ‘oh my god where’s the Lapel ?!’ . But this was good as I was able to expand my game, as my NoGi development helped my Gi development. I don’t know if I will compete at World NoGi this year but for sure I want to compete in NoGi again as I enjoyed it a lot !!
FME - You are currently prepping for your Brown belt world championships debut, how has your transition to brown belt been and how has training been for the World Championships !
Igor - my transition from purple to brown is a massive difference as there are now toe holds and kneebars so I was afraid at first but now not at all. That was the biggest difference, now I’m training for worlds at 99 and training at minimum twice a day, and I’m doing strength and conditioning with my coach. I’ve never trained how I’m training now, I’m sure you guys will see a fat ninja you’ve never seen before. I feel so prepared and I’m excited as I’ve never trained as hard.
FME - Thanks for talking to us Igor and good luck in all your future competitions